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Meet Sarah - Cultural Landscape Apprentice

Sarah, a young woman wearing green, stands in front of the limestone church facade at Mission San Juan.
Sarah Vergara is one of three Cultural Landscape Apprentices at San Antonio Missions in 2020.

NPS Photo.

Meet Sarah! She is one of four Cultural Landscape Apprentices at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Sarah works alongside National Park Service staff to learn important job skills and address deferred maintenance projects such as grounds and acequia preservation, irrigation system management, landscape bed rehabilitation, and associated tasks during their time at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. She is one of four apprentices who make up the 2021 Cultural Landscape Apprentice team. The Cultural Landscape Apprentice Program is specifically designed to engage local Latinx young adults ages 18-28 who are interested in developing career skills in preservation of cultural resources. The program is made possible in partnership with Mission Heritage Partners, National Park Foundation, and Texas Conservation Corps (American YouthWorks.)
Interns and Apprentices stand in a line along the acquia, an earthen ditch.

Where did you go to school?

I’m an alumna of UIC – University of Illinois in Chicago. I got my bachelors degree in Public Health.

What is your favorite part of the apprenticeship so far?

I enjoy using the power tools. So far, we’ve used power tools for pruning, mowing and weed eating. Before starting this apprenticeship, I had used hand tools for pruning but I had never used a pruning saw. It’s been fun to learn to use power tools and be around the trees all day. I find it relaxing to work outdoors around the trees.
Chainsaw laying on the bare dirt at the historic earthen ditch
Apprentices help to address deferred maintenance projects such as grounds & acequia preservation, irrigation system management, landscape bed rehabilitation, and more.

NPS Photo.

What is your best memory in a national park?

We didn’t really go to national parks as a family when I was a kid, because my parents weren’t very interested in nature. I didn’t visit the missions until a few years ago. I recently went on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which was my first time visiting a national park and not a national historical park. This apprenticeship has been my biggest exposure to the national park system.

Why is cultural resource management important?

It’s important to preserve the land and the history of a certain period in time. Preserving this place helps us to understand how things came about, especially here at San Antonio Missions. It’s important for people to be able to come here and learn about the mixing of Spanish and Indigenous cultures. I’m also always drawn to the trees in parks, and the work that we do helps to maintain this landscape and make the park experience more enjoyable for visitors. Keeping the park nice, what we are doing in our internship, is very important.
Cultural Landscape Apprentices and Park Rangers pose in front of Mission San Jose.
Cultural Landscape Apprentices are recruited from the local community.

NPS Photo.

What is one thing you hope to learn in this apprenticeship?

While I’m here, I want to take the opportunity to learn how to identify different trees.

What are your future career goals?

I want to go to grad school for Environmental Science and become a scientist. In my career, I want to do something with environmental education and specifically use my Spanish speaking skills. It’s important to get more youth engaged (and adults, too!) My parents, for example, have become more interested in nature and the environment recently. It’s just fun!
Limestone church facade at Mission San Jose midday, with scattered visitors on surrounding pathway.

What advice do you have for current students interested in pursuing cultural and natural resource management?

My advice would be to try an internship out for the summer. Do some kind of work like this apprenticeship to see if it’s something you want to do. Internships and on-the-job experiences are really helpful. And don’t be scared or intimidated by all the science courses that you have to take in college as an Environmental Science major.

Apprentice Sarah uses a weed wacker on the landscape at the Visitor Center

NPS Photo.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love hiking. I also enjoy seeing parts of San Antonio that I never saw when I was younger. Sometimes, I feel like a tourist in my own city. I like biking, reading, and practicing my Spanish.

What is your favorite tool that you will use during the apprenticeship?

My favorite tool is the chainsaw! I think that’s partially because I never really see women using chainsaws. It just looks so cool. It’s a powerful tool, and it’s also efficient.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring with you?

I would bring a plant ID book to make sure that I don’t eat any poisonous plants. A tent would also be practical. Last, I would bring a suitcase full of books. I would use the books to occupy my time, and I could also use them for fire if I needed to!

Last updated: April 2, 2021